Monday, March 3, 2014

Challenged by Lifestyle

     A brief online chat yesterday reminded me that not everyone truly understands the challenges of raising a Border Collie in a small city versus on a farm.  Trust me, it had been my hope that we would have a small farm of our own long ago as I have never adapted well to city living. But, when life doesn't work the way you'd hoped or planned, you deal with it. City life is itself a challenge in my world, but successfully raising any pets in a city setting is definitively NOT ideal and far less than ideal for raising highly energetic and intelligent Border Collies.
    Ideally, Border Collies should have a LOT of exercise both physical and mental to channel their energy and keep them fit.  Many scoff at the need to keep them busy but if you've ever had a Border Collie, then you know they truly require something to do for every waking moment, particularly while they are young. If you reside on a farm or home with a large area in which they may run and exercise, it's easy to wonder why anyone would need to entertain a puppy because given that kind of space and lifestyle, they will easily burn their energy running the property-even without much of a job.  Certainly if they live on farms where they have both space and jobs, their lives are easily filled with daily exercise.  However, when you live in a city and have a less than a quarter acre of yard space, the challenge of keeping Border Collies physically and mentally fit require you to make a concerted effort to provide them enough exercise and entertainment.  Many Border Collies and Border Collie crosses have ended up in shelters and rescues because people didn't fully understand their herding instincts, intelligence, and need for exercise and interaction. Truly, if you don't channel their minds and provide things to do, they will find their own entertainment and it's often not healthy for them or your household! I have never wanted to fail my dogs by not doing my best to meet their needs, but I know we often lack the physical exercise during winter months when taking them somewhere is just not possible.
     Fortunately we are older and have no children or grandchildren which makes our home relatively quiet most of the time. It also means our only diversions are our jobs and our hobbies which means our dogs really are our primary focus in our home. We live in town, but we have good friends with large farms close by that allow us to use their farms at will to exercise our dogs; and there are several dog parks nearby.  I tend to steer away from dog parks because  you never know how well other people care for or handle their dogs and I fear the exchange of illnesses and potential dog fights. The big problem is that being older and having physical limitations, simply walking the dogs does little in terms of exercise for them.  Border Collies really do need to be able to cut loose and run-a lot. Needing to take them somewhere to get that exercise is often impossible due to weather.  That forces us to find ways to mentally stimulate their need to be busy in ways people with spacious yards or farms do not necessarily need to do.
     Finding things for Border Collies to do is not really the challenge-if you have the time and commitment to working with them.  Their intelligence means you can teach them a LOT of tricks and as they learn more individual tricks,  you can combine them to form more and more complicated ones.  But when they're puppies, there is a certain amount of pure play and interaction they need to keep them healthy and developing. Creativity is a great thing with Border Collies because if you can think of something to teach them, they generally like learning so you can devise some great playtime activities that are also training them for future tricks and jobs.  Agility is an awesome way to occupy Border Collies and their inherent characteristics make them REALLY great at it.  Nothing says you have to compete in agility trials, but teaching them agility components and being able to set up small courses in your small yard gives you an alternate way to exercise the dog mentally and physically. As puppies, they can learn a lot of basics necessary for them to do agility with some very simple and fun activities.  Frisbee and ball chasing are other activities Border Collies love and help keep them busy too.  Raising and maintaining Border Collies in a city isn't impossible, but it is more work than sending out the back door to get some fresh air for a few minutes and relieve themselves; or taking a walk around the park.  
     I attribute our success raising Gilley and keeping he and Buzz healthy to our diligence in keeping them occupied; taking them places as much as possible; and having a quiet home in which they can be inside resting or interacting with us to play games.  They keep us from being couch potatoes and we totally enjoy their antics. Cinder needs our interactions to keep her on track and not chewing her way through the house or demonizing us due to boredom.  Her youthful energy is good for all of us, forcing us to all be more active and engaged than we have been the last couple years and frankly, we need that as much or more than she does! Her little mind at work forces us to keep challenging her.  Despite the work she requires of us, her presence has already enhanced and enriched our lives and we look forward to more fun and folly in our adventures raising Cinder.


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